Science  14 Jun 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5575, pp. 1947

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  1. Scientist-Statesman

    The father of India's missile program has been nominated to be president of the country. If chosen, Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (below), an aeronautical engineer, would be the first scientist to hold the largely ceremonial position.


    Kalam, 71, is the former head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, where he spearheaded India's guided missile program and played an important role in preparing for the country's 1998 nuclear tests. A civil servant with no known political affiliations, Kalam is also a member of India's Muslim minority, which the Hindu-led government has been working to win over. An election will be held next month if an opposition candidate is put forward.

    Kalam is a “remarkable team person, full of humility,” says Martanda Varma Sankaran Valiathan, president of the Indian National Science Academy in New Delhi, adding that his selection shows the importance of technology development to the country. Last year, Kalam stepped down from a 2-year stint as the government's principal scientific adviser to work with students considering careers in science.

  2. Nanocoordination?

    A bigger effort is needed to coordinate science on the smallest scale, according to a report released this week by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Fifteen federal agencies and departments currently participate in the U.S. government's National Nanotechnology Initiative, which has spent some $1 billion over the last 2 years to promote science at the atomic scale. Although the agencies meet regularly to mesh their programs, the report concludes that they could use more help.

    Samuel Stupp, a materials scientist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who chaired the 16-member panel that wrote the report, says the biggest problem is that there is “no advice from outside” or straightforward way “to seek opinions from the community at large.”

    To build those bridges, the panel recommends that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) set up a new advisory board of outside scientists to coordinate nanoscience strategy. It also suggests that the office manage a special grant fund for interdisciplinary research. OSTP currently does not hand out any money. OSTP officials say they are studying the recommendations.

  3. One of Their Own

    An in-house geologist has taken the helm of the Smithsonian's troubled National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.—at least temporarily. Until a permanent director is found, Douglas Erwin, an expert in ancient mass extinctions, will be in charge of the museum's research program, which some scientists say is threatened by changes proposed by Smithsonian chief Lawrence Small (Science, 14 September 2001, p. 1969).

    Erwin, chair of the museum's paleontology department, steps in for Dennis O'Connor, who left last month for an academic post. O'Connor served just 7 months after replacing Robert Fri, who left last year in part because of disagreements with Small.

    University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Jeremy Sabloff, who heads a committee evaluating Smithsonian science, is pleased with Erwin's appointment, as well as that of Irwin Shapiro—head of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory—who last month became undersecretary for science. Given the turmoil, “having strong voices for science is absolutely necessary,” Sabloff says. But he notes that a search committee is already writing a job description for Erwin's replacement.

  4. MIT Reports on Secret Science

    After a 3-month study, a faculty committee at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this week recommended that the school retain rules that bar classified research from campus. But the panel said the university should establish a new committee to track evolving government rules on scientific secrecy and consider expanding off-campus laboratories to handle expected growth in classified work.

    MIT leaders ordered the report last February, after some universities reported that federal funders were pressuring them to restrict some basic research in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks (Science, 22 February, p. 1438). Most schools ban secret work from campus and bar prior government review of basic science results.

    In its 50-page report, the panel—led by engineering professor Sheila Widnall—reaffirmed MIT's commitment to “an open research environment” on campus. But it predicted that MIT's classified work—done at affiliated Lincoln Laboratory—will grow. In particular, the panel said “it is not too hard to imagine” a new lab for secret biological research. MIT officials say the report will help guide the use of such facilities.